Friday, January 05, 2007

God is unchanging--isn't that boring?

I came across a wonderful passage in Gabriel Marcel's Creative Fidelity concerning the traditional metaphysical predicates applied to God, that he is one, unchanging, eternal, that God does not suffer or need anything, etc. Sometimes when people hear these descriptions, they think that it seems rather limiting. How could God be unchanging? If I were unchanging, and eternal, I think I would be bored out of my mind. Surely it is better to think of a god who can change, who can experience passionate love as we do, or who can suffer with us, isn't it?

In fact there is a flaw in this sort of thinking. We think that what the theologians are doing by applying these predicates is to limit God, to say that God cannot do things. But what is actually going on is that the predicates are negative--they are denying that something limiting applies to God. To say that God is unchanging is not to say that God can't change, but that he need not change, since he is already perfect. To say that God is eternal is not to say that he endures throughout an endless duration of time, but that he is beyond time. Time doesn't even apply. To say that God does not suffer does not make God heartless, it makes him perfectly joyful.

Marcel's passage is worth quoting:
I cannot overstress the fact that theological affirmations as such are a snare; for the "properties" I have just mentioned, if construed as predicates, seem to be the most impoverished that exist; if they are construed as principles of understanding it must be conceded that they are in a sense more inadequate than those which are conferred on the humblest and most ephemeral creature in our world. To achieve that conversion of our outlook which is indispensable, and to reveal what seems an infinite deficiency as the infinite plenitude that it really is, consciousness must, by an act of decisive conversion, sacrifice itself to the One whom it must alone invoke as its Principle, End, and only Resort.

God is plenitude, so much so that to our meager conceptual apparatus, it looks like poverty.

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